Category Archives: Women

Thinking out loud about Women, Preaching, the Bible and 1 Timothy 2

As a woman who teaches and preaches the Bible, 1 Timothy 2:12 is a verse in the New Testament that I regularly get asked about. I’ve talked about it many times, but have been a bit reluctant to commit pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard).

Why? Because I love the Bible and want to take it seriously and interpret it faithfully and part of that means reading it as a whole rather than focusing on a single verse out of its wider context.

Because more has been written about that one verse than most others put together and there may not be anything new to say.

Because my thoughts are nuanced and have developed over time and may continue to do so, whereas the written word is ‘frozen’ in time and can therefore be misinterpreted as ‘final’ and ‘complete’.

Because I haven’t wanted to be judged and put in a box based on my thoughts on one single topic.

Because people might think that I am just trying to justify myself.

I could go on.

But in the end, I’ve realised that not saying something can lead to people making just as many assumptions and misinterpretations.

That some people have been told there is only one way to interpret that verse and thus assume my practice must therefore indicate that I don’t believe the Bible.

That nuance and wrestling shouldn’t preclude written conversation.

That the affirmation and encouragement of women to use their God-given gifts for the benefit of the church and the world is just too important to worry about what those who disagree with me will say or think.

Perhaps for some similar reasons, the movement of churches I am part of is holding a symposium in a couple of weeks to articulate our biblical and theological perspective on why we support and encourage both women and men into pastoral ministry.

And so in the lead up to that, I have finally put pen to paper (okay, fingers to keyboard) and written a paper I’ve called “Women, Preaching, the Bible and 1 Timothy 2.” It’s a lot longer than a normal blog post, because how else do you give broad context and provide nuance? It’s built on the work of others but also contains my own personal thoughts. It’s been reviewed by some peers I respect and trust but no doubt contains thoughts others will disagree with.

So for those who have previously asked or those who are interested, you can read or download it here: http://sabaptist.asn.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Women-preaching-and-the-Bible-Cousins.pdf

And if you want to skip to my conclusion, it is simply this:

In the end, we are dealing with a complex matrix of biblical, theological, historical, and cultural issues when talking about women, preaching, and the Bible. We need to put our discussion into this wider context rather than assume that there is a ‘proof text’ that settles the question. I believe that the Scriptures affirm the calling on women and men to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit and to respond to both the call of God and the need of the world for faithful proclamation of the gospel. I believe we can wrestle with the texts that have been used to limit this calling in ways that are hermeneutically consistent and evangelically faithful and come to more generous conclusions. Let us preach the Word of God that Jesus might be known. And let us raise up the next generation of Marys, Phoebes, Junias, and Priscillas to play their part in the flourishing of the church, the witness of the kingdom, and the demonstration of the new creation yet to come.

The privilege of experiencing “un-privilege”

I had an experience when I was in an African country last November that I have wanted to write about ever since, but it is one that I have struggled both to fully understand and to articulate.

In some of the churches we visited, men and women sit on separate sides of the room during a Sunday service. We, however, as honoured [white] guests, were often seated separately from both men and women, in the “best” seats at the front or on the side.

This Sunday, as the only white woman present, I wanted to sit with the other women in the congregation. But what actually happened was that when I sat on the women’s side, none of the local women sat with or near me. In fact, as the church filled up, it soon became glaringly obvious that despite the packed house, there was a circle with a radius of at least two metres between me and anyone else.

I felt incredibly isolated. I also felt an overwhelming mixture of frustration, anger, and sadness, which I struggled to contain. At the time, I couldn’t pinpoint who or what I was angry about, or exactly what made me feel so disconsolate.

After returning home and reflecting on the experience, I have come to the conclusion that I was simultaneously experiencing both privilege and what I will call (for want of a better term) “un-privilege.” As a white person, I was given elevated status, to the point that the other women did not feel that it was acceptable for them to sit with me. But as a woman, I did not have the status that would make it acceptable for me to sit with the men.

Now, let me say that I categorically do not wish to make any value judgments about the people I was worshipping with. About the only thing I can probably be certain of is that they were not experiencing this event the same way I was. But I do want to learn from and share about what I experienced in that moment, from my perspective.

The idea of “privilege” is one I know not everyone is comfortable with, but it has become a helpful shorthand expression for something that is very common in our world. Basically, it refers to the advantages that a group of people have due to their social status. As this status is conferred by society, it is not something that is chosen, and it can often be something very difficult for those who experience it to recognise.

Experiencing the world as a white person means I experience privilege. It means that I do not understand what it means to be disadvantaged because of the colour of my skin, and that often I am not even aware that there is any advantage or disadvantage based on skin colour. But when I listen to my friends and neighbours who experience the world every day as “people of colour” (a term that itself reeks of privilege – as if those of us who are white are “without” colour!), I realise that they face many subtle and not so subtle reminders every day that it matters what they are not.

I also experience privilege because I am educated, wealthy, heterosexual.

However, on the other hand, experiencing the world as a woman means that I experience “un-privilege.” I recognise every day that there are ways I am spoken to and spoken about, ways that I am looked at and overlooked, ways that I am valued and evaluated, that are not experienced by men.

Maths

So, why was my experience in Africa so confronting? From my perspective, something about that simultaneous experience of both privilege and un-privilege clarified things. I felt both the miserable isolation of not having the same status as the men, as well as the humbling shame of being given a status above the other women that I had done nothing to deserve.

And I think it was that shame which provoked my deepest anger, frustration and despair. The shame that reminds me that I can go through life so oblivious. To not even know that by what I assume to be my “neutral” experience I am actually both being advantaged and therefore causing others to be disadvantaged. That unless I somehow enter into the experience of those who are not like me, and try in some way to feel what un-privilege is like, I will never understand my own privilege. And so I am grateful for my experience in that church. It was confronting but in a way that I needed to be confronted. It was a privilege in the other sense of the word – a humbling gift and a source of true pleasure.

A good friend of mine was recently the only male participant in a room full of people discussing the challenges of being a woman in a male-dominated profession. He reflected afterwards on his desire to apologise as he recognised that even he, who is a gracious and forthright advocate for women’s participation in our profession, so often did not even see how the ways he spoke and acted could perpetuate the disadvantage that women experience. I felt so grateful that he was able to have that experience. I know that he will be able to make a greater difference because of it. That like me in Africa, his confrontation with the realities of un-privilege was a gift and an honour he will not scorn.

Finally, I am reminded of one of the most profound truths of the Christian faith. Incarnation. The fact that the God who had all the status and privilege in the universe chose to fully enter into the un-privilege of humanity. And the incredible wonder is, that He counted it a true privilege to do so.

Misogyny, bravery, hashtags, and speaking up (a follow up to #YesAllWomen)

I’ve been a little bit overwhelmed by the response to my recent blog post asking how the church can respond to #YesAllWomen.

For starters, a number of people called me “brave,” which while I can understand and appreciate, hasn’t sat very well with me. I guess ultimately because it saddens me that I live in a culture where naming the reality of this experience is rare enough, and can bring enough negative response, that to do so is considered courageous.

I’ve had the opportunity to reflect further on why this is, and I recognise that I am part of the problem. When experiences like I named in my post happen, whether to me or to others, I still tend to respond to them as if they are anomalies, one-offs. Perhaps I don’t say anything because I wilfully forget that they are happening all around me, often to women much younger than I who have much less influence and ability to speak up about it.

My awareness has been raised to the point that I have thought through what I am going to say when (not if) I am in a situation where a woman or girl is being touched or spoken to inappropriately. No more looking back and thinking “I wish I had said something,” or “I was so shocked I didn’t think quickly enough to say something.”

I am so grateful for the incredibly positive responses I have had to my post. What has been particularly pleasing is the way this conversation has been picked up offline in a number of ways. It’s easy to be “outraged” on the internet, and some question the value of hashtags and blogs as “slacktivism” – a replacement for activism that might make us feel better, but doesn’t actually change anything. I’m hopeful that #YesAllWomen is much more. In this case, simply raising awareness is in and of itself “doing something.”

I’m grateful for all the women who have told me “I never realised it wasn’t just me,” and for all the men who have said, “I’m so shocked, how did I not know about this?” Now that we are all more aware, my hope is that next time we see something like this happening, we will all speak up. Men in particular, if you hear other men catcalling women, or making jokes about rape, please ask them to stop. If you see a woman in a situation where she looks uncomfortable, ask her, “Is this man making you uncomfortable?”

I’m incredibly humbled by the women who have shared with me their horrific stories of abuse. Given what I said above, I won’t call them “brave,” but I will call them important, honourable and gracious. 

I’m thankful too for the (male) pastors in my family of churches who have asked how we can continue this conversation into the future. While I’ve always been a little hesitant to be pigeonholed as a ‘spokesperson’ for women, if God has given me the opportunity and influence to bring this issue into the light, I am going to grab it with both hands. This is not a “women’s issue.” It is a leadership issue, a culture issue, a church issue, and a gospel issue.

Finally, I was reminded again yesterday, powerfully and publicly, why #YesAllWomen exists, and needs to exist, in the church. Christianity Today’s online Leadership Journal published a six-page article in which a convicted rapist, writing from jail, was given a platform to explain his actions – which he did by characterising his sexual abuse of a child as a “relationship,” lamenting the consequences he has faced since being caught without once taking ownership of what he had done to his victim. The article was tagged by the editors with the words “Adultery” and “Mistake.” (These have since been removed. They have not been replaced by “Rape” or “Crime.”)

[If you don’t know what I’m referring to and want to, see Tamara Rice’s excellent post].

What has been encouraging is the response of so many men and women, calling for CT to #TakeDownThatPost, another hashtag that has so far caused Leadership Journal to add a disclaimer, and then edit the article (not particularly well). I’m still hopeful they will respond by deleting it, but the conversations it has provoked among a number of high profile Christian leaders about misogyny, victim-blaming, and minimising abuse, demonstrate that when we listen to one another, when we become more aware, we learn and grow and things can change. And if it takes a hashtag to help that process along, well, God has used stranger methods.

 

Update: about an hour after I posted this, Christianity Today responded to #TakeDownThatPost by deleting the post and apologising for publishing it. So pleasing, and so good to see an internet apology that is not, “Sorry you were offended by us,” but rather, “Sorry, we did the wrong thing and we should not have.”